How We Are Greenwashing The Cloud and What It Means for IT's Carbon Footprint

Florin Gorgan/CC BY 2.0

1E is a company focused on making the IT industry more energy efficient. In fact, the company's mission is to "identify unused IT, help remove it and optimize everything else." So when it comes to the cloud and the controversy around whether or not it is really a greener way to go, you can bet the folks at 1E have something to say about it. We talked with CES Sumir Karayi about some of the misconceptions about the cloud, and what needs to happen for it to be truly a greener option for IT.

What is the most common misconception about the cloud and why it seems like the greener way to go?

The cloud is a new way to provide and consume services but there are lots of other associations. Cloud providers don’t tell us how much energy and efficiency data centers consume, for example. Each data center built in the cloud is a new service. It’s important to remember that the cloud doesn’t equal decommissioning all of the time. It is additive not a replacement. For example, Google has not replaced thousands of servers in internal datacenters; it has added new ones.

The cloud won’t replace existing data centers entirely. So we will carry on running old data centers (which are becoming increasingly inefficient) and cloud data centers concurrently. In a few years’ time cloud data centers may even become the next inefficiency we will need to tackle.

So what's the fine line that makes the cloud green or not green? Does it all come down to data centers and where they're getting their power? Does it come down to how someone utilizes the cloud for accessing information?

I see two aspects of green – reducing consumption and making consumption more efficient.

The cloud is good at doing the latter not the former but it is the former that is the lowest hanging fruit. Basically, every kWh you don’t use is cheaper and better for the environment than a kWh that provides new or more efficient work.

Doing things more efficiently is important but may still increase energy consumption. What we need is to see every unit consuming less energy.

Can the cloud help us realize real energy savings and carbon emission reduction, or is it unlikely?

In the short term (next four to five years) it is highly unlikely that the cloud will realize energy savings. In the longer-term, cloud services may replace many services from internal servers so organizations will be able to replace or switch off whole data centers.

It seems like using the cloud is where we're heading no matter what, and that includes over the next few years when we won't see energy savings. So what do people need to know about it in order to make environmentally responsible decisions about IT?

The most important decision about environmental consumption is not to have IT systems running that provide no business value. There is no benefit to cloud solutions that no one uses. Hundreds of thousands of cloud services are being provided across data centers worldwide. Imagine the resources used by all cloud services today. Many will fail to gain market share or customers. Ultimately, we will be left with significant IT in cloud-based data centers which will not be used. This is not a new; private data centers have had this problem for a long time. 1E is one of the few companies to create tools that identify servers and software and other IT that is not doing anything useful for organizations, giving them the ability to reclaim, recycle or decommission those resources.

Which are some of the companies you see using the cloud in an environmentally savvy way in terms of energy conservation and sourcing energy in a smart way?

Most of the largest cloud providers are fantastic at providing environmentally friendly marketing messages. The fact is, every kWh used has to be paid for - and at the moment the environment is paying the price. There are many benefits of cloud services however I struggle with most of the environmental benefits that are promoted because, at 1E, we understand what real environmental benefits are and how they can be achieved and have had years of experience working with customers to do so. Efficiency should always be the number one goal.

Tags: Electronics | Energy Efficiency